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It was 6:15 a.m. when a loud thump roused me from a deep sleep. It seemed that something not human was making a thudding sound in the house. I went downstairs but nothing seemed amiss. I yelled to my son, who was working in the basement, and he responded, "There's nothing making a noise down here."
I had just returned to bed when a thump came from the walk-in closet. As I entered the closet, I saw a bird career off the window. Shocked, I rushed to see if it had fallen to the patio stones below. No, he was sitting opposite me in the bare branches of the locust tree that grows close to the house. He stared back at me, then launched himself at the window, hitting it only inches away from my face. I jumped back.
He was a fine specimen – a large male robin with a downy red chest. But this was a bird with issues.
The dive-bombing and thunking continued at random intervals all morning. I consulted Google and learned that this bird was seeing (but not recognizing) its own image reflected in the window. It was attacking an imaginary rival. The article warned that the bird might lose some feathers and blood – but, more seriously, these attacks would distract him from finding a mate and building a nest. Google advised covering the window to stop him from seeing a reflection.
Lacking curtains in the closet, I piled plastic containers in front of the windows. This did nothing to deter the bird from attacking.
In week 2, the situation worsened. The robin began to attack the glass patio door in the kitchen, in addition to the two windows upstairs. Furthermore, the attacks occurred in all kinds of weather. This bird apparently could see its reflection even in the pouring rain. And it didn't restrict itself to morning bombings. The attacks continued throughout the day. When we were upstairs, he attacked the closet windows. When we were in the kitchen, he watched and attacked from the tree. I began to wonder if the bird was stalking us. I tried to suppress memories of scenes from Hitchcock's The Birds.
Week 3 I succumbed and went to a bird store for advice. They suggested we attach decals to the windows. According to the instructions, "the decal reflects ultraviolet light, which glows like a stoplight for the birds." I bought one package with hawk decals (to scare the hell out of the robin) and another with leaves (to simulate a tree?).
We decided to try the heavy-duty hawk decal. My husband attached two to the glass door while the robin watched from the locust tree. Within minutes the robin started dive-bombing the hawk decal. After several swoops it landed on the adjacent screen-door and glared belligerently at the door with the decal. We were too discouraged to attach the other decals. If hawks didn't work, what would leaf decals do?
By week 4, the robin was accomplished at buzzing the hawk decal while barely grazing the window. It could also hook its talons into the screen door and hang sideways staring at the hawk and occasionally at me. One day he seemed inexhaustible, buzzing and hitting almost every window on the north side of the house. I was convinced he was suffering from brain damage caused by the incessant dust-ups with panes of glass. He brought new meaning to the expression "knock yourself out."
The next day, when he swooped against the windows we noticed he had twigs and pieces of straw in his beak. "He's either trying to move in or build a nest," my husband mused.
"He's just toying with us," I retorted cynically.
Discouraged, I started to think about the other challenges we have had with wildlife. There's the big brown rabbit who gets plumper every day snacking on my hostas, tulips and daffodils. If I charge out the door he freezes, thinking he blends into the landscape. He doesn't. But I don't threaten him.
I prefer the rabbit over the garter snake I encountered in the backyard last summer. It was perhaps 50 centimetres long, but I reacted as if it were a 10-metre Burmese python. I screamed and ran into the house. All afternoon it sunned itself on the patio while I peered out, a prisoner in my own home. Several days later it shed its skin at the garage door – in my view a gesture of contempt. I'm worried the snake has taken up permanent residence nearby and will soon slither out.
Two years ago, we had a skunk who would saunter across the backyard during the day. It established residence under our storage shed. The expert we called to remove it advised waiting in case there were babies under the shed. For two months the skunk had exclusive access to the yard, disturbed only by our fast, furtive forays to the barbecue.
It seems that every year Mother Nature sends one of her creatures to test our mettle. We always lose. The score is wildlife 4, family 0. I know the goal should be peaceful co-existence but it hasn't happened yet.
The robin still attacks the house, though less frequently. I believe he's given up nest-building in favour of stalking. He may be a homeless bachelor, but I am grudgingly in awe of his misguided perseverance.
Elaine Peebles lives in Ottawa